Oxfordshire is home to the University of Oxford, the oldest university in the English-speaking world. It is known as the 'city of dreaming spires', coined by Matthew Arnold in reference to the harmonious architecture of the university buildings. The River Thames runs through Oxford where for a distance of around 17km it is known as The Isis.
Even before the university was created, Oxford Castle was there. It was built by William the Conqueror in 1071, and part of its history is that for 125 years from 1870 it was a prison!
Oxford Prison's cells had windows and the massive central gallery, known as A Wing, had three tiers of cells and was brightened by sunlight pouring through barred casement windows. Once considered airy, healthy and light, when it closed in 1996 it was so overcrowded, prisoners were three a cell.
The once-revolutionary design qualified in parts for protection status. The British-owned Malmaison Group, known for converting unusual city centre locations into luxury hotels, sympathetically transformed the former penitentiary into a plush boutique hotel. They took on the project keeping A Wing virtually intact.
The Castle has been the location for films including the original Italian Job, Spy Games and Porridge. It was also in many episodes of the Inspector Morse television series.
Really, little has changed on the outside. Inside, new carpeting and subtle safety glass lining railings and décor to set off exposed stone or brick walls have been added, but you almost expect to see inmates in striped suits.
Original Victorian iron-bound doors still have peepholes, just reversed to guests can look out. The Malmaison changes become evident once you pass though those doors to the 94 rooms. The 20 square metre rooms with ensuite were once three cells. A Wing rooms have queen beds and other rooms have high ceilings, some with bath tube large enough to float in.
The Governor's old house has mezzanine rooms with four poster beds and a mini cinema.
The Brasserie serves simple, elegant meals. English with a Continental twist fare is served throughout the day. Décor is 1890s French and ambience is warm and friendly.
Mal Bar serves the best in drinks. Whites, reds, rosés and champagnes. Their sommelier is Johnny Walker, and he should know what he's about! Mixed drinks are a specialty … name it and they will create it.
By the way, it's said that the castle has ghosts, and they've been seen before imbibing. Keep your eyes open!
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Oxfordshire, 90 minutes from London.
The Malmaison Oxford Castle Hotel rooms start at around $340 a double a night.
Emirates has flights to London.
Valid for travel between February 1 to 21, 2008 and October 4 to 31, 2008.
For more information
Malmaison Oxford Castle Hotel
3 Oxford Castle
OX1 1AY UK
Ph: 44 (0) 1865 268 400
Fax: 44 (0) 1865 268 402
Ph: 1300 303 777